Arielle Gresham, disliked and mistrusted by most of the students at her school, has a secret past, an unbelievably complicated present, and a shaky future. But no one knows or cares because she has managed to alienate anyone who could help her. She tries to cope with problems at school, but difficulties at home almost break her spirit. As the school tries to deal with an outbreak of false fire alarms, a series of thefts, a student addicted to prescriptions drugs, and another who is a victim on vicious online bullying, Arielle finds that outward appearances are seldom what they seem to be.
A hero is needed--maybe several heroes to solve the various problems that emerge. What makes a hero? Perhaps we find out as the novel builds to a powerful, explosive conclusion.
1. What made you decide to create the Jericho trilogy?
Lots of readers wrote to me and asked what happened to Jericho, to the remaining members of the Warriors of Distinction, and to the girls in their lives. I decided to continue the story in November Blues by focusing on November, Josh's girlfriend, as well as Jericho, who was also traumatized by the tragedy in the first book. Jericho chooses football as a means of dealing with his grief. November is forced to make choices as well, many she had not planned on. In Book three, Just another Hero, the story continues.
2. Which characters are the focus of Just another Hero, and what challenges do they face?
November has returned to school, Eddie has been released from the detention center, Kofi is battling an addiction, and Arielle tries to find her place in spite of severe problems at home. Olivia and Jericho are still together, but Arielle might try to regain her place in his life. Dana remains strong and fiercely supportive of Kofi, whose parents are not always there for him.
3. Are any new characters introduced in Just Another Hero?
Osrick Wardley, slight of build, shy, intelligent and observant, is easily bullied and his problems build with the tensions of the story. And Jack Crasinski, also known as Crazy Jack, seems to be going over the top with unusual behavior and outbursts. He plays his drums in the hall every day—searching for the noise as well as attention. Teachers, of course, also play an important role in the lives of the characters. From a thin woman who makes her students do a dance to learn the periodic chart of the elements, to one who uses all the modern technology from computers to zip drives, their struggles become entwined with the struggles of their students.
4. Are your characters based on real people?
No, all of the characters are my own creations. I made them up. Sometimes fictional characters can seem so real that the reader might think they are real people, because good fiction is based on reality, but the characters in my books are just that--fictional. I start with a character who grows and develops as the book progresses, so that even to me he or she seems real by the end of the story. But they only exist in the pages of the book. I even get letters from students who think the characters are real. One girl asked for Arielle’s home phone number--honest.
5. Your novels often deal with controversial issues such as teen hazing in The Battle of Jericho, teen pregnancy in November Blues, and school violence in Just Another Hero. Why is it important to you to bring attention to these issues through your writing?
Teenagers live in a stressful and confusing world and face difficult decisions every day. School violence seems to be on the rise—we see it in tragic news accounts all too often. Instead of avoiding issues they must deal with, I choose to address the problems they might encounter though fictional characters and situations. I try to deal with topics that are both meaningful and significant. I also hope that by reading my stories, young people can perhaps apply some of the messages to their own lives. I get emails every single day from young people who thank me for writing about subjects that touch their lives. I try not to preach--I just put the problems in the lives of characters and see what happens when they make decisions.
6. In Just Another Hero, why did you decide to focus on Arielle, probably the most hated character in the first two books?
Everyone has a back story—a reason for why they act as they do, or respond to situations in a certain way. Arielle has survived the loss of her father, three stepfathers, and the loss of her little sister to an institution. Her home life, although it looks luxurious and rich from the outside, is unhappy, tightly controlled and full of fear. Arielle grows through the story, moving from being self-centered and shallow to understanding and grateful for friendships.
7. You have won the prestigious Coretta Scott King literary award for five or your books, plus many other literary honors. In addition you have been honored at the White House on six different occasions, including twice at the National Book Festival. What were those experiences like and what do these awards mean to you?
Award ceremonies are thrilling and the honors are tremendous. I'm blessed to be chosen to receive them. No two days are ever the same in my life--it's a wonderful rollercoaster. But my real reward comes in letters from young readers, and from teachers and librarians who tell me that my books make a difference in their lives. That's true honor. Of course, I would love to be invited to the Obama White House one day.
8. How has being a teacher affected your writing style and the genres you choose to write?
I think because I was a teacher of adolescents for so long that I have a feel for the pulse of the teen audience. I believe in them, I respect them, and I admire them. And I think they know that. They trust me to write for them and tell their stories, and they tell me they eagerly await the next book.
9. What would you like your young readers to get out of reading Just Another Hero?
I want them to think about violence, and about what the actions of just one person can trigger. I also want them to remember that everybody has a “back story,” a part of their life that might be hidden, but influences how they function in school. We all have problems. Sometimes those overlap into school situations.
10. What does Just Another Hero say about heroism?
The book offers lots of questions that are open to discussion. What is a hero? Who can be a hero? Does a hero always look like those in literature, like Beowulf, for example? Or can the hero be small and seemingly insignificant? Can the bad guy be the hero? Can a girl be a hero? What makes a person rise to heroic levels? The end of the story leaves the answer open. “Arielle slowed to listen to the reporter. ‘So what makes a hero, and who is the hero of the day?’ the woman was asking the audience on the other side of the camera she faced. Arielle breathed deeply of the spring air that promised flowers as well as rain. She ducked under a ribbon of crime scene tape, sprinted toward the parking lot, then whispered the answer to the reporter’s question into the soft breeze.”